Gomez understands the impulse to stand up and represent for minority communities – while also being unabashedly patriotic about the opportunities this country has afforded himself and his family.
Sounders forward Herculez Gomez is the son of Mexican immigrants, Manuel and Juana, and a former member of the United States national men’s soccer team.
He understands the impulse to represent and stand up for the minority culture of his upbringing – while also being unabashedly patriotic about the opportunities this country has afforded himself and his family. So when he agreed to a lengthy conversation as part of our wide-ranging survey on athlete activism, Gomez’s answers were typically multifaceted.
Part of that chat came off a script of questions for the project, but the bulk of it veered off into Gomez’s candid views on patriotism, race and how personal beliefs can shift over time. Below is an extended version of that interview, lightly edited for length and clarity.
– How do you personally define patriotism?
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“I think patriotism is a love for one’s country,” Gomez said. “That’s my personal definition. I don’t know if that’s what it means if you look in the dictionary.
“For many of us, it’s unique because you come from dual cultures. That can mean a lot of things. My family immigrated to this country and my parents actually met here. They were looking for a better life and they met here. They achieved that. They left their home country in search of something better and they found it. That’s the American dream. For me, that’s what it’s always meant.”
– How far apart did your parents grow up in Mexico?
“They actually grew up really close to each other in Mexico. My dad came out here when he was 18, my mom came when she was about three or four. They met in Los Angeles. Both of them were in search of a better life, and they found each other here. Then they popped out five of us. I grew up with a lot of the Mexican culture, a lot of the festivities and I guess you could say values. I was a product of my environment.
“The majority of what I’ve achieved in my life, as far as finances go, came outside of this country (note: Gomez played for parts of six seasons in Mexico’s Liga MX). But my actual forming of a person, my understanding and my values, were formed in this country.”
– If the U.S. did something you disagreed with, how would you choose to protest?
“The U.S. does a lot of things I disagree with. … But myself as an everyday American, I just live my life. That can be very selfish on my part, but I think I’m like other Americans. It’s a blinding privilege that we have.
“I know what it’s like to be a minority in this country and feel like I’m thought of less at times, and to be profiled. I’ve had that feeling. But now, with my status as an athlete, I feel like I do have that blinding privilege where you almost immune to it. Since it doesn’t directly affect you, your life just goes on. It’s a sad thing to say, but I think a majority of us Americans are like that.”
– Going back 10 years then – 10 years ago, if we were having this conversation before some of what you called ‘blinding privilege’ kicked in – would have answered any of this differently?
“Absolutely. I’m a product of my environment and of the circumstances that I’ve lived. Those rough edges have been smoothed over. I’ve learned from being in different parts of the country and different parts of the world that I’m very privileged.
“My best friend in this world is an African-American heterosexual male, and he’s a cop. I worry about his safety every day. I know he’s in a tough position, because he’s experienced those things that affected his every day life and now he’s on the other side. He’s blue.
“If you were to have asked me this 10 years ago, it would have been very different. I would’ve told you about me getting pulled over at 16, being asked to show my license and registration, reaching in the glove compartment for it and all of a sudden getting a handgun in my face – because the cop was scared I was reaching for something else.
“It’s something that happened to me. For a long time, I carried that with me. It wasn’t until I got older and learned and experienced and saw things that I really learned to value not only that officer’s job – to appreciate what he does and that he’s willing to put his life on the line every day for our freedoms.”
– As a minority in this charged election cycle, how has that side of it shaped how you view this country?
“I love this country. It’s given me so much. It’s given my family so much. I could never imagine living anywhere else for the rest of my life. I love it that much. But I’m in a different position. That blind privilege that I talked about, I represented my country at the highest levels. I feel something when I hear the national anthem. It means something to me. But it might not mean the same thing to somebody who’s never been out of their city, who doesn’t have it as good as I have, who feels that racial prejudice. It’s very different.”
– Do you still feel connected with your roots? The meaning of that question obviously changes during different stages of life.
“It does. I can’t stress enough how, until it directly affects you, until it’s actually in front of you, that’s when you pay attention to it. It wasn’t until I went to Mexico and started making a living for myself down there — and got to see the people that didn’t have it as easy as I did and their everyday struggle – that I learned to have that appreciation for where I’m at, and to have the life that I lead.
“To have been given the experiences that I’ve been given, and to have the education I’ve been given, everything I’ve lived has directly affected me and molded me into the person I am today. So that’s a tough question to answer.”
– Do you ever feel any compulsion to use your platform to shed light on those struggles you referenced?
“Absolutely. I wish I could do more for the Mexican-American community. I have a platform but I feel like I can only do so much. I’m sure people like Colin (Kaepernick) and Megan (Rapinoe) feel the same. They can only do so much. It’s not until we become united as a people, say, ‘enough is enough, let’s talk about it and get together,’ that things will change.
“My platform here is a little different. … The one thing we do have is a voice. I guess by talking about it, that’s doing your part.”